NASCAR Race Weekend Central

The Big 6: Questions Answered After the 2009 Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte

Who… gets my shoutout of the race?

I’m going to take a hard right turn from the norm and award a winner in this category. He wasn’t the $1 million winner, I know, but I’d be willing to bet that Sam Hornish Jr. felt like $1 million after winning the Sprint Showdown. While not an official points race, the victory was Hornish’s first in a stock car. And while due credit should be given to improving Penske equipment, Hornish is doing a fair job of steady improvement himself these days. Sure, the big names weren’t there to contend with, but Hornish proved his mettle against the best of the rest on Saturday.

What… was that?

NASCAR let it go when Kyle Busch jumped a restart on Saturday because the All-Star Race has different restart rules (the start of a segment is treated like the start of a race, and drivers may not pass on either side before the flagstand), but I’m not sure how NASCAR overlooked it when Busch ran over the air hose on a pit stop after sliding through his pit. That’s not a special rule; that’s an automatic penalty every week. Either an official was caught napping on that one, or NASCAR wanted to artificially create excitement by keeping Busch in the lead pack. Some fans have even speculated a darker motive than that. In any case, it looks bad. If NASCAR wonders why fans think they try to manipulate the outcome of races, well, failure to adhere to their simplest rules is it.

On the subject of Busch, I have to say that many others I have talked to and I found Darrell Waltrip’s gushing over the driver during the SPEED broadcast pretty sickening. It was one thing for Ned Jarrett to root for his son at Daytona, or even for Ol’ D.W. to call his brother to the checkers. But it’s another thing entirely to show such bias as Waltrip did on Saturday night.

Where… did the polesitter wind up?

After dominating the opening segment, Jimmie Johnson ended up an also-ran after Denny Hamlin sent him spinning on the opening lap of the final segment. Johnson didn’t suffer major damage from the incident, but it left him an unlucky 13th at the end. Under All-Star rules, Johnson could have restarted in the position he had been in at the time of the spin – since the running order reverts to the last lap completed – but Johnson had to pit for tires, forfeiting the spot and a chance to win a third All-Star trophy.

When… will I be loved?

During the 100-lap main event, there were just three cautions for on-track incidents, and one of those was really due to three cars trying to fit where three cars don’t fit. As for the other two, both left one driver fuming and another considering his future in an Everly Brothers cover band. The means we’ll spread the lack of love this week, splitting this dubious award between Hornish (from shoutout to goat award in one day, a new Big Six record!), who ended Greg Biffle’s race 28 laps early, and Hamlin, who spun Johnson on lap 91.

Why… do we have to have that 50-lap segment?

The first segment of the All-Star Race was, for this type of race on this type of track, too long. While Johnson leading every lap of the segment in dominating fashion was a testament to just how good a race team can be when they get a car dialed in, it wasn’t exactly compelling racing. And why should it have been? There was no incentive for anyone to really race in the early going. My solution? Make the race four 20-lap segments before the 10-lap shootout. Eliminate three to five cars each segment, so that the final 10 laps is decided only by the 10 best. Sure, some fans will complain if their guy gets sent packing early. But I say too bad. They should have been faster when it counted. At least eliminations would force the cars at the back to actually race and not just ride.

How… popular was the fan vote winner, really?

After the Sprint Showdown, NASCAR called four cars to the tech line to prepare for the All-Star Race – the top-two finishers, the Nos. 77 and 26, and presumably the top two in contention for the Fan Vote – the No. 20 and the No. 44. However, Joey Logano ended up making the cut over AJ Allmendinger. There was speculation among fans afterward that perhaps the winner’s sponsor had played the spoiler in the contest, having enough employees that, if computers were set up in the breakroom and everyone was… er, strongly encouraged to vote every time they had a chance, they could have easily influenced the outcome, whether those employees were actual race fans or not. I can’t say whether that was true – but I will leave you this week with this thought: when Logano was announced to the crowd at Lowe’s Motor Speedway, the fan reaction was one of unmitigated… apathy. The silence was startling, and perhaps it spoke volumes.

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